When does graffiti become a more permanent memorial? Or does its impermanence, its ephemerality, afford it a significance in itself? The recent phenomenon of replica Cofiwch Dryweryn memorials brings such questions to the fore.
I’ve touched on the drowning of the Tryweryn valley in a previous post in connection to a megalithic monument beside the reservoir itself, but I haven’t previously discussed the current rash of Cofiwch Dryweryn signs that are spreading across Wales during 2019. These signs, appended to a range of existing architectures and also as arrangements of rocks on hillsides, replicate a monument established near Llanrhystud. I consider them here as an example of a present-day ‘guerilla’ memorial tradition but drawing their power and prominence not in this case by subverting an existing monument, but by replicating a contested one. While few are situated on the border of England and Wales, it speaks to the relationship of Wales with the United Kingdom past, present and regarding its future. They relect a drowned landscape’s reclamation to memory as a metaphor for the rehabilitation of identity and territory. This is a trope with deep roots in Welsh mythology and inevitable connections with Christian ascension symbolism, to the hopes that the Welsh people rise again through remembrance. This statement is powerful because it links the protest over a decision to drowned the Welsh landscape to not only calls for Welsh independence, but a broader sense of Welsh patriotism and links to the landscape.
The original slogan as a contested monument
A fuller account can be found on Wikipedia but here are some highlights. Outside Llanrhystud, Ceredigion, in the early 1960s, a ruined cottage wall was painted with a slogan in white letters on a bright red-background. It stated the Welsh nationalist message, originally ‘Cofiwch Tryweryn’ and subsequently grammatically corrected to ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’ through multiple restorations. In 2008, it was altered to ‘Angofiwch Dryweryn’ and defaced subsequently. In 2017, ‘Cofiwch Aberan 1966’ was appended to the original wall message. So the original monument with its powerful message, both linguistically and in terms of subject matter, has become a contested monument with a lively biography of adaption, destruction and restoration.
Yet things have really heated up in 2019. The phrase i’r Gâd! was added to the mural’s base in April 2019. At the same time, the top section of the wall was knocked down. Two days later, this was restored by volunteers. Referring to both the monument and to the Welsh people, the phase Fe Godwn Ni Eto was added to a wall nearby.
Replication as protest and memorialisation
What has happened more recently is a process of memorial replication has translated the monument’s message to various other venues around Wales as a part of renewed calls for Welsh Independence and a broader statement about Welsh identity. There have been hundreds of new murals established across Wales and also farther afield. Some attempt, on different scales, to mimick not only the colour scheme and letters of the original Llanrhystud monument, but the precise scale and arrangement of the characters. Hence, I argue that these are replica memorials. Further details are here on the People’s Collection Wales website. Furthermore, Dr David Howell has created a Google Map resource to record this proliferation of memorials for posterity, marking in black those that have been subsequently destroyed, and those that are extant: the Cofiwch Dryweryn map. The original context of the memorial hasn’t always been important when the slogan has been replicated. However, in some cases it seems that the choice of location and orientation, as well as scale, is significant too.
The one I have visited, at Nant Mill, is already on the map. This one doesn’t mimic, but its simple white letters make its statement. To the left is the Yr Eryr Wen symbol of the ‘Free Wales Army’ from the 1960s. Whether thought through or not, the precise positioning of the Nant Mill example is very interesting. Yes, it is on a popular and prominent walk in a heritage landscape of Woodland Trust managed woodland linked to one of the birthplaces of the industrial revolution, but in addition, it is appended to the Plas Power estate boundary. It faces upstream in doing so, only a few hundred metres from Offa’s Dyke with its prominent sculpture of the Mercian ruler pointing towards Wales. Whether intentional or not, as with the temporary Bersham slag heap version added in May 2019 and removed by August 2019, it turns its back on England (and Offa?), and looks west… It would be interesting to see how the compilation of the signs reveals patterns in placement and location as well as scale and character of each memorial.
One need not support and adhere to the aims and objectives of the current Welsh independence campaign to find this an interesting and striking phenomenon of guerilla memorialisation. Augmenting Welsh public spaces, including some with prominent heritage connotations, and already being considered heritage dimensions of the Welsh landscape, it will be interesting to chart their proliferation and destruction in a comparable manner to the protest memorials and flags raised against Brexit and those that have become statements about our European identity as Brexit has transformed our politics.